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Pakistan: Seeds of hatred are sown in schools

31 March 2013

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The Friday Times - March 29 - April 04, 2013 - Vol. XXV, No. 07

Report By Abdullah Zaidi

Speakers at a seminar in Karachi call for an end to bias and discrimination in textbooks and education policy

The National Commission for Justice and Peace brought together various civil society organizations and the public in a seminar last week to highlight bias and discrimination in the textbook curriculum and education policy of Pakistan.

Discriminatory text appeared 45 times in school curriculum in Punjab in 2009, but increased to 122 in 2012, according to a report distributed at the event, authored by Peter Jacob, the executive director of NCJP. In Sindh, discriminatory text appeared 11 times in 2009 but rose to 22 in 2012.

Karamat Ali, executive director of Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research, spoke about General Zia’s Islamization programme that had set such policies in motion. Zia’s legacy, he said, was continued by other forces that are still very powerful in Pakistan. "The indoctrination is so deep and prevalent that children in schools ask their fellow non-Muslim students to convert to Islam," he said. "Basically, the issue is of greater democratisation of the Pakistani society to achieve equal rights for religious minorities."

"You cannot indoctrinate children with religious intolerance and later convince them as adults that everyone is equal"

Bernadette Dean, the principal of St Joseph College Karachi, spoke about gender bias in the textbook curriculum. She said there were absolutely no women mentioned in the textbooks of Pakistan. "They are full of great men. Women are portrayed in stereotypical roles such as a housewife or mother." There was no dialogue or debate, she said, and students rote-learned religious biases.

"You cannot indoctrinate children with religious intolerance and later convince them as adults that everyone is equal," said Dr M Ali Sheikh, vice chancellor of Madarssatul Islam University.

Commenting on the disenfranchisement of non-Muslim children, former member of Provincial Assembly Saleem Khurshid Khokhar said missionary schools teach Islamic Studies to Muslim children, but the non-Muslim children are not allowed to study their own religion in public schools. He said he had tabled a resolution in the Sindh Assembly in this regard, but the matter did not move forward.

Peter Jacob said his organization would conduct similar conferences in other cities and provinces as well. He said the NCJP would take up the issues of discrimination in textbooks, teaching a single religion in school in violation of Article 22 of the constitution, introduction of Nazra in Punjab and Sindh without any alternative, and giving extra marks to students who memorize the Holy Quran.

He criticized the government and the bureaucracy for their inefficiency. "There is infinite duplication and a serious lack of coordination between governments, ministries and relevant institutes," he said.

Peter Jacob said there was an unfortunate focus on the amount of money spent on education instead of debate on what was being taught.

Other issues that were discussed during the seminar were inclusion of Islamic Studies in the General Knowledge curriculum, omission of historical information, addition of incorrect or incomplete information so that one community or group could be misrepresented, and under-trained teachers who are unable to cover these issues comprehensively.

Four final recommendations were put together at the end of the conference: i) the removal of discriminatory lessons from the curriculum, and assigning an independent group of historians to remove the distortion of historical facts, ii) secular subjects should either be free of religion or inclusive of all religions, iii) arrangements for non-Muslims to study their own religion in lieu of Ethics as a substitute for Islamic Studies, and iv) either no preference should be given to Muslim students who memorize the Holy Quran or similar concessions should be made to students from all religions.

P.S.

reproduced from TFT for educational and non commercial use